Rebelling against the increasingly formulaic operas of the time, Christoph Willibald Gluck's "reformist" opera Alceste (1767) was a successful attempt to return to a purer form of musical drama. It is highly appropriate that this 1999 production of the revised 1776 Paris version should be conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, with the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, the same forces responsible for many fine Bach performances equally emphasising character and text. In setting the tragic story of the profound love between Queen Alceste and her husband... King Admète, Gluck provided a score of austere, rending beauty. Principals Anne-Sofie Von Otter and Paul Groves dominate the production as much through the power of their acting as their musical prowess, the major scenes being electrifying in their emotional intensity. Contrasting with this psychological realism are the simple, Greek-inspired designs by Robert Wilson. Silhouetted geometric shapes glide gracefully through the slow-motion movements of the actors, bringing a hypnotic, dreamlike quality to the work. Near constant blue lighting adds a sense of late evening tranquillity, giving the stage a highly distinctive look and a feeling of dislocation in space and time. Both chilling and uplifting, this Alceste is a triumph. On the DVD: There are no special features other than a well-appointed booklet. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound effectively re-creates a wide theatrical atmosphere and given the low lighting levels throughout, the anamorphically enhanced 16:9 picture makes the most of the striking imagery. The disc is encoded for regions 2 and 5. --Gary S Dalkin [show more]
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